ICE Detention Centers Hold Immigrants for Unreasonably Long Times


(ESPAÑOL) U.S. ICE agents detained more than 100,000 immigrants during the 2017 fiscal year, holding them an average of 34 days before releasing or deporting them, federal records show. Average length of detention was 22 days in fiscal year 2016.

But some are held for months or years because of pending appeals or delayed deportations — time that could increase after President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown and a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many of the longest-running cases involve immigrants who have been convicted of committing a nonimmigration crime but appeal their deportation.

Immigrant advocates argue that detainees have rights equal to criminal defendants awaiting trial in jail, a notion that U.S. courts have generally rejected.

Unlike convicts serving out a defined sentence, however, “these folks are not knowing when their time will be up,” said Donald Anthonyson, director of the national advocacy organization Families for Freedom and a former detainee.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower-court decision that gave detained immigrants the right to a bond hearing after six months; most criminal defendants get such a hearing within days.

An earlier decision still lets detainees with deportation orders petition for release after three months if their deportation will be further delayed. The court said in that ruling the law “does not permit indefinite detention.”

ICE declined a request for a phone interview quoting an official but said that the government can suspend the three-month time limit for deportation if the detainee fails to apply for travel documents or, according to immigration law, “conspires or acts to prevent” their deportation.

Etowah houses an average of 300 male immigrant detainees every day. A majority of them are long-term U.S. residents convicted of crimes who now face deportation.

Etowah has one of the highest national rates of transfers into the detention center and the longest time before the next transfer, according to federal data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Federal records show Etowah had the second longest average length of stay — 101 days — of any detention center in the country in fiscal year 2017.

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